By Donna Cornelius
Dinner at Jim ’n Nick’s Bar-B-Q wouldn’t be complete without two of the restaurant’s most popular products: its cheese biscuits and its barbecue sauce.
But those who love the taste of the sweet little muffins and the tang of the sauce can enjoy them at home, too, thanks to JNN Retail. Since launching in 2011, the biscuit mix and three flavors of sauces are now on the shelves of 3,500 grocery stores.
Nick Pihakis and his father, the late Jim Pihakis, in 1985 started what’s now one of the Southeast’s biggest names in barbecue. Today, there are 41 Jim ’n Nick’s locations across the South and in Colorado.
The retail side of the Birmingham-based company came about through a friendship between Nick Pihakis and Joe Molay, who has been JNN Retail’s president from the start.
“Nick and I have been friends for a long time,” Molay said. “Our daughters went to school together.”
Both families happened to be at the beach at the same time one summer and had dinner together. The two men got to talking about a mutual passion for University of Alabama football, which led to tailgating and going to games together for many years.
“We were traveling to Orlando for the 2011 Capital One Bowl, and I mentioned that I was burned out with my current job because I was traveling all the time, and Nick said he’d always wanted to get their barbecue sauce into grocery stores,” Molay said. “I had a background in grocery store sales, so it seemed like a good fit.
“We got back together in the fall to discuss further opportunities, especially since the cheese biscuits were introduced for retail purchase in the restaurants, and we decided to go for it. The first thing we did was revamp our in-store marketing of the cheese biscuit mix, and that Christmas season they sold like crazy – through the roof.”
Molay had to meet several challenges before he felt confident about approaching grocery stores.
“Everything at Jim ’n Nick’s is made fresh every day, including the sauces served in the restaurants,” Molay said. “We worked for months to get the flavor profile right. When we got it right, we introduced our Original, Habanero and White Sauce in August of 2012. Once we got the biscuit mix and our sauces out there, my plan was that if I can sell it in the restaurants, I can sell it to grocery stores.”
Jim ’n Nick’s reputation gave Molay a leg up when he first approached grocery stores about stocking the products.
“Almost everybody has something they make the best,” he said. “Let’s say you come up with a sauce, and you think it’s a winner. You pitch it to a grocery store. But grocery stores get thousands of pitches, and they aren’t as likely to buy something people have never heard of. You need name recognition.”
One of the first JNN Retail customers was Winn-Dixie.
“It started selling well there, and everything snowballed,” Molay said. “I pitched it to Supervalu, which said no at first. But when I could tell grocery stores that we had sold 200,000 packages of cheese biscuit mix, that gave me the entry I needed.”
In addition to Winn-Dixie, you can find Jim ’n Nick’s products at stores like Publix, Piggly Wiggly, Associated Grocers, Mitchell Grocery, Walmart and Kroger.
Having grocery store shoppers see the Jim ’n Nick’s name on the mixes and sauces gives the restaurants a boost, too.
“Stores like, say, Publix can have 200,000 people going through every week,” Molay said. “You multiply that out, and it’s great publicity for our restaurants.”
Molay also is responsible for internet sales through the company’s website, www.jimnnicks.com. In addition to the biscuit mix and sauces, you can go online to order shirts, hats, steak and burger seasoning and a barbecue dry rub seasoning. Those sales have extended JNN Retail’s reach even further.
“Every year, I pull up the orders and sort them by state,” Molay said. “Our products are in all 50 states and are sold to people in Canada and overseas.”
Since the company started, sales have increased every year. Even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hurt JNN Retail sales – in fact, the opposite has been true for the internet. Molay said sales almost tripled in April and May.
“We’ve seen an increase in sales for both the mix and the sauces so far this year,” Molay said. “It’s been similar to Christmas, when we always see a spike in sales.”
And in case you’re wondering, the company’s name isn’t an acronym for Jim ’n Nick’s.
“JNN actually stands for Joe and Nick,” Molay said.
Besides Jim ’n Nick’s high profile name and the solid sales figures of its products, Molay has another weapon in his arsenal when he meets with grocery store decision-makers.
“We make the biscuits, and I bring them in hot,” he said. “Then I show them the numbers.”